Learning from the Chains
Optical chain stores have a lot of marketing dollars and
corporate strategies in place. Find out what they're doing right.
Jerry Hayes, O.D.
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), independent optometrists have a 36% market share of the $16 billion eyewear market (services aren't included in this number). Optical chains and superstores have a 32% market share, ophthalmologists account for 13%, opticians 9% and HMO-type clinics 10%.
While I suppose we can take some satisfaction from the fact that independent optometry is still the country's largest provider of eyewear, let's face it -- the $5 billion that chains sell is a lot of glasses and contact lenses! Love 'em or hate 'em, we have to respect the fact that they're doing something right to be that successful. The question I want to explore in this column is: What do chains offer that independents don't, and what can we learn from them?
Us and them
In my opinion, patients come back to independent O.D.s for our high level of professional care and personal service. The appeal of chains is what I'll call the "customer convenience package" of consumer awareness, location, perception of value and service and focus on fashion.
If you agree with my logic, then you'll probably agree that patients tend to be loyal to independents because of a personal relationship and they tend to do business with chains because they're perceived as more convenient and affordable. So no matter how good your professional services may be, the public likes certain things better about chains. Below are some of the reasons.
- Location. Chains get a lot of business because they're located in high-traffic areas such as malls and busy intersections. You don't have to have the hottest location in town, but it's been demonstrated that the easier it is to get to your office, the more people are going to come in.
- Convenient hours. Small towns are still the exception, but consumers in suburban and urban areas are used to shopping at all hours of the day into the night.
Although it's not realistic for most independents to be open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can certainly become more competitive by offering evening hours 1 or 2 days a week plus an occasional Saturday morning.
- Service. Several major chains beautifully executed two concepts that changed eyewear retailing over the last two decades. The first was the concept of "1-hour eyeglasses."
While many O.D.s, including myself, turned our noses up at this concept because it was difficult to execute, we missed the point. There was a huge demand for better and faster service. The bottom line is: People don't like to wait. The lesson? Consumers want better service, so find a way to provide it.
- Upscale offices with an emphasis on
fashion. While independent O.D.s, again including me, were trying to enhance our images as healthcare professionals by downplaying the fashion -- and profit -- side of eyewear, major chains were succeeding with the second big concept -- high-end superstores.
In the process, we gave away the high end of the fashion eyewear business to the chain stores. Smart independent O.D.s finally figured out that they could maintain their professionalism by promoting high fashion and using those profits to build the eye health side of their practices.
It can work for you
We independent O.D.s can't emulate everything the chains do -- nor should we try. The good news is that we can definitely incorporate some of their best business strategies into our own practices. Many successful independents are already doing this.
A frequent writer and speaker on practice management issues, Dr. Hayes is the founder and director of Hayes Consulting. Call (800) 588-9636 if you need help with your
Optometric Management, Issue: June 2001